Ponoco: Series round 14 preview

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes -- Pocono Pocono-Bound: Kurt Busch Looks For Third Consecutive Win That streak of blue heading north to Pennsylvania belongs to Kurt Busch and his No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge team. Busch & Co. are riding ...

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes -- Pocono

Pocono-Bound: Kurt Busch Looks For Third Consecutive Win

That streak of blue heading north to Pennsylvania belongs to Kurt Busch and his No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge team.

Busch & Co. are riding momentum's crest, fresh off back-to-back victories in the NASCAR Sprint All- Star Race two weeks ago and last Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 triumph at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Next up: Sunday's Gillett Fusion ProGlide 500 Presented by Target at Pocono Raceway.

Aside from the victory, last week's win boosted Busch in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings. He rocketed from ninth to sixth, and sits only six points behind fifth-place Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota). Busch trails leader Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) by 172 points.

Pocono Raceway's 2.5-mile triangular layout couldn't be more different from Charlotte's 1.5-mile oval, but it seems a comfortable fit for Busch, a two-time Pocono winner. His first win there came during his 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title season with Roush Fenway Racing, and his most recent Pocono victory came with current team owner Roger Penske in 2007.

In fact, Penske Racing has a winning Pocono record that dates to 1991, when Busch's predecessor, Rusty Wallace, notched the team's first win there. Wallace won four times at Pocono, and former teammate Ryan Newman (No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet) won once there, under the team's banner.

Crew chief Steve Addington, in his first season with Kurt and Penske Racing, hasn't won at Pocono. The duo have a March victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway to pair with their two at Charlotte; the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race is a non-points event.

"The big thing is bringing the same chassis style that we run good with out there every single week," Addington said. "So we've just got to get those cars built and implemented into the system and bring it every week. I'm confident that after the last two weeks at Charlotte, we're all on the same page and that's definitely the direction we're headed in."

Busch saw mixed results in last year's Pocono races. He finished 37th in June and ninth in July, though he led laps in both. Statistically, there's evidence that the track agrees with him: Busch's pre-race Driver Rating there (105.9) ranks second and he's scored two perfect driver ratings at Pocono. He's also second there with 238 Fastest Laps Run and in Average Green Flag Speed (159.118 mph).

Busch was third in the series standings at this point a year ago, but also winless. He finished fourth in last year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, and his current streak tabs him as a 2010 title contender.

Hamlin's House: Pocono Friendly, Familiar Territory

Expectations run high whenever Denny Hamlin -- currently fifth in the series standings -- and crew chief Mike Ford arrive at Pocono Raceway. A three-time winner thus far in 2010, Hamlin also is a threetime Pocono winner, a total that includes his July 2009 victory there.

En route to the 2006 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award, Hamlin swept both Pocono events from the Coors Light Pole. His overall Pocono record is three wins, five top fives and six top 10s in eight starts. His average Pocono finish is a series-leading 9.5. Hamlin has led 391 laps at Pocono, and has a laps-completed rate of 98.5 percent.

He's also living up to pre-season title expectations. Hamlin's next win will match his career-high, fourwin season of 2009 (he finished fifth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup). His best points finish was third in his rookie season, and he hasn't missed the Chase since.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings leader Kevin Harvick has two top fives and five top 10s in 18 Pocono starts, but hasn't led a lap there.

Time To Go: Chase Eligibility Looming Large For Some Teams

With 13 races complete and 13 remaining before the field is set for the 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, it isn't yet time for teams or drivers to hit panic buttons.

However, it is time to stock up on resolve, beginning with Sunday's Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 Presented by Target at Pocono Raceway.

Richard Childress Racing's Kevin Harvick sets the current pace. He took the lead in February at Auto Club Speedway, relinquishing it to four-time and reigning series champion, Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), after the season's sixth race at Martinsville Speedway.

After four weeks, Harvick returned atop the standings on May 1, following the season's 10th race, at Richmond International Raceway.

Along the way, he helped cement RCR's resurgence with an April 25th win at Talladega Superspeedway (his 12th overall and first in 115 starts) while Johnson has tumbled a bit, most recently to seventh after last week's accidentmarred 37th-place finish at Charlotte.

Johnson hasn't finished outside the top five since joining the series full-time in 2002, but it's much too early to discount a revival.

Following Sunday's race, the June 13 event at Michigan International Speedway and the June 20 event at Infineon Raceway, the 10-event Race to the Chase opens at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on June 27.

Heading to Pocono, four 2009 Chase participants rank outside the top 12 -- Tony Stewart (No. 14 Old Spice Chevrolet) currently 16th; Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Target Chevrolet), 20th; Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Ford), 21st and Brian Vickers (No. 83 Red Bill Toyota), who is out for the season due to health issues.

Drivers who didn't make the 2009 Chase but who are in the current top 12 include Harvick, Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&Ms Pretzel Toyota), and Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford) -- the top three in the standings, respectively.

Harvick's teammate Jeff Burton (No 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet), who also didn't make last year's Chase, is eighth.

Watch out for a razor-thin margin between 12th-place Ryan Newman and those behind him.

Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Cheerios/ Hamburger Helper Chevrolet) is 13th and trails Newman by four points. Martin Truex Jr. (No. 56 NAPA Toyota) is 14th and 14 points behind. Jamie McMurray (No. 1 McDonald's Chevrolet) is 15th, 26 points out.

Look At The Loop: Stewart, Martin Need Pocono Pick-Me-Up

Talk about unpredictability.

Last season, the unknown enveloped Mark Martin (No. 5 Hendrickcars. com/GoDaddy.com) and Tony Stewart.

Both drivers had a bevy of questions that could lead to failure.

Martin had just decided to rejoin full-time competition, with a brand new team. There'd likely some kind of adaptation period.

Instead, Martin entered the 2009 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as the top seed and finished the season second in the points standings to teammate Jimmie Johnson.

Tony Stewart's fate was much harder to figure. He left a rather comfortable situation, one that brought him two series championships to start his own team -- Stewart-Haas Racing.

There were seemingly no growing pains. He, too, made the Chase, and finished the season sixth in points.

So, there was little question about 2010 for either Martin or Stewart. Both were consensus preseason locks to make the Chase.

Well, not so fast -- literally.

Martin currently resides inside the allimportant top-12 bubble, but the cushion is anything but comfortable. He's only 92 points from the Chase cut-off.

Stewart's in much worse peril. Currently 16th in the points, the driver-owner is 27 points out of the top 12.

The good news for Stewart: The deficit can easily vanish in one race.

This weekend provides the perfect opportunity for both Martin to create some distance inside the top 12, and for Stewart to climb back into it.

Both are strong at Pocono Raceway.

Stewart's first points victory as a driverowner came in the first Pocono event last year. In that race, he scored a Driver Rating of 122.5, an Average Running Position of 7.5, 18 Fastest Laps Run, 39 Laps Led and ran all but 20 of the laps inside the top 15. Over the last 10 races at Pocono (since the inception of Loop Data in 2005), Stewart has a Driver Rating of 101.7.

Martin sits at the very top of both the all-time top five (19) and top 10 (32) lists at Pocono, but has yet to earn a victory. His six runner-up finishes at Pocono are tied for most at one track without a victory (Bobby Allison, Martinsville).

Over the last 10 races at Pocono, Martin has a Driver Rating of 98.8 and an Average Running Position of 10.7.

NSCS Etc.

Milestones: Kyle Busch (25 years, one month and four days) will become the youngest NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver to reach 200 starts this weekend.

His record heading to Sunday's Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 Presented by Target -- 18 wins, 60 top fives and 93 top 10s in 199 starts.

The previous youngest driver to the mark was Brian Vickers (25 years, 11 months, 3 days) when he made his 200th start at Dover International Speedway on September 27, 2009).

Busch is in a six-way tie for 37th on the alltime series win list. Sharing the position are Neil Bonnett, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard/ AMP Energy Chevrolet), Matt Kenseth, Geoff Bodine and Harry Gant.

A Different Double Duty: In addition to his NASCAR Sprint Cup duties on Sunday at Pocono, four-time and reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson will make his second start of the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series season in Saturday's Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen.

Johnson will co-drive with defending and two-time Daytona Prototype champions Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty in the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Chevrolet Riley at Watkins Glen International -- the second-longest race on the Rolex Series schedule.

While Johnson has raced on The Glen's 2.45-mile short course -- scoring three top-five NASCAR Sprint Cup finishes -- this will be his first look at the traditional 3.4-mile circuit familiar to many top international drivers.

"We've tried to make some things come together for other races and it's just never worked out," Johnson said. "So I'm very excited that we were able to make this happen. I know Alex and Jon have won this race before and I hope we're able to do it again."

Johnson has co-driven the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Chevrolet Riley at the season- opening Rolex 24 At Daytona the last three years, finishing second overall with Gurney, Fogarty and Jimmy Vasser in their debut together in 2008. He has seven career starts in the Rolex Series, all at Daytona International Speedway.

"The door is always open to Jimmie to race with us at any time, but making that type of scheduling work with his massive NASCAR commitments is easier said than done," car owner Bob Stallings said. "Happily, it worked out."

TNT Returns: TNT begins its 10th midseason schedule of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series telecasts this weekend at Pocono Raceway.

NASCAR veteran Adam Alexander will call the play-by-play, joining returning TNT analysts Kyle Petty and Wally Dallenbach in the booth. Returning pit reporters include Ralph Sheheen, Marty Snider and Matt Yocum.

Lindsay Czarniak will host the one-hour pre-race show Countdown to Green. She'll also host post-race shows with Petty and Larry McReynolds on TNT and NASCAR.COM.

Musical artists AC/DC have created a new single titled "T.N.T." which will serve as the network's theme song for 2010.

TNT's six-week schedule begins Sunday at Pocono and includes the June 13 event at Michigan International Speedway, the June 20 event at Infineon Raceway, the June 27 event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway the July 3 event at Daytona International Speedway and the July 10 event at Chicagoland Speedway.

Up Next: Race 15 @ Michigan

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' next stop is Michigan International Speedway, for the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 on Sunday, June 13 (TNT at 1 p.m. ET).

Mark Martin is the defending race winner. Brian Vickers, sidelined for the remainder of 2010 due to medical issues, is the defending pole winner.

The legendary David Pearson leads the way at Michigan with nine wins and 10 Coors Light Poles. Another legend and three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion -- Cale Yarborough -- is second with eight Michigan wins.

The 1988 series champion, Bill Elliott, who still competes on a part-time basis with the equally-legendary Wood Brothers Racing, leads all active drivers with seven wins; the Woods are tied with Jack Roush for most owner wins at Michigan. Martin is next on the active driver win list with five Michigan victories.

Fast Facts

The Next Race: Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 Presented by Target
The Place: Pocono Raceway (2.5-mile triangle)

The Date: Sunday, June 6
The Time: 1 p.m. (ET)

Race Distance: 500 miles/200 laps

TV: TNT, 1 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128

2009 Polesitter: Tony Stewart
2009 Winner: Tony Stewart

Schedule prior to race day:
Friday -- Practice 12-1:30 p.m. and Qualifying 3:40 p.m.
Saturday -- Practice 10-10:45 a.m. and 11:45 a.m.-12:20 p.m.

-source: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Wally Dallenbach , Bill Elliott , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Kyle Petty , Alex Gurney , Kevin Harvick , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmy Vasser , Jon Fogarty , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Kasey Kahne , Martin Truex Jr. , Brian Vickers , Bobby Allison , Clint Bowyer , Jack Roush , Denny Hamlin , Bob Stallings , Roger Penske , Harry Gant , Cale Yarborough , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin , David Pearson
Teams Stewart-Haas Racing , Richard Childress Racing , Team Penske , Roush Fenway Racing , Wood Brothers Racing